Lansdowne Park: A study in exceptions to the rule

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By Steve Collins, Metro Ottawa

It will bring little joy to long-suffering neighbours, but granting construction crews at Lansdowne Park an exemption from noise bylaws, allowing work to continue around the clock when needed, fits a well-established pattern. The park's redevelopment has been a study in exceptions, advice rejected and rules bent.

The cancellation of a competitive bid process in favour of a sole-sourced deal with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group set the tone — and fuelled lawsuits from Friends of Lansdowne, a residents' group opposed to the redevelopment, and the Lansdowne Park Conservancy, whose competing proposal would have kept the park in public hands but didn't get a serious look.

Friends of Lansdowne, for their part, were threatened with a change in policy that would allow the city to go after the citizens' association for legal costs. Last year, city lawyers grew impatient with the court's deliberations in the case and wrote a rather unusual letter asking when a decision might be expected.

Time and again, city officials have pleaded the urgency of the redevelopment and looming deadlines to justify cutting the odd procedural corner. Often, those deadlines seemed largely self-inflicted.

Take the snap vote council took to authorize $400,000 for a bid on two FIFA events, the under-20 Women's World Cup in 2014 and the Women's World Cup in 2015. Impending deadlines, we were told, meant the money was needed right away, and once the bids went ahead, we'd need the new venue in which to host them, stat.

The benefits of hosting such major-league events aren't seriously in doubt, but booking them into a nonexistent stadium? Possibly a bit rash.

As events shook out, the under-20 World Cup won't take place here in 2014, so now the replacement exigency is the need to have everything in place for North American Soccer League and Canadian Football League teams next year.

Next year will also, incidentally, be an election year, which might be the best explanation for all the hustle.

Lansdowne's Horticulture Building, which will turn 100 in 2014, stood in the way of planned retail space and underground parking. So we uprooted and relocated it in a rather impressive feat of engineering that nonetheless contravened the advice of the city's heritage advisory committee and the provincial Conservation Review Board, who were of the staid opinion that the historic building should stay in its historic location. Terribly sorry, exceptional circumstances, etc.

The question, after all these exceptions, is whether we'll end up with something truly exceptional at Lansdowne Park. The city and OSEG and the sun-dappled conceptual drawings assure us we will.